January 31, 2014

Pumpkin operation growing beyond the patch

The Walterses are growing beyond the pumpkin patch.

The Walterses are growing beyond the pumpkin patch.

Carroll and Becky Walters of El Dorado built Walters’ Pumpkin Patch, a sizable pumpkin picking and entertainment business aimed mainly at families, at their farm at 10001 N.W. 77 Highway.

Over the years they have added new outdoor entertainment: a pumpkin cannon and slingshot, corn maze, jumping pillows, zipline, train and more. They’re open to the public from late September to the end of October.

“We have 30,000 people in six weeks,” said Becky Walters.

The challenge for any seasonal business is figuring out how to lengthen the high season.

That’s why the Walterses’ latest addition is a 5,000-square-foot events center – heated and cooled for corporate retreats, weddings and all kinds of gatherings year round. The events space has room for about 350 people, dressing rooms and a food prep area.

They have also moved their gift shop into a new building.

They plan to change the name of the business to Walters’ Farm to reflect the broader appeal.

The new space cost nearly $300,000, Becky Walters said.

Becky Walters said it was pretty clear that they needed to invest in the new building. They were already hosting gatherings, but just in an outdoor pavilion. Wedding parties wanted dressing space, caterers wanted room to unpack their food – and everybody wanted the temperatures to be comfortable.

“It’s hard to have an open air event when it’s 110 in the shade,” she said.

They’re opening the center on Saturday for the first time for a visit by about 350 members of the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association, a group of fellow agri-tourism business owners who are holding their convention in Kansas City.

On Saturday, six buses full of businessmen and women who own corn mazes and fruit orchards across the country will show up to tour Walters’ Pumpkin Patch.

“We’re excited to be able show it off,” Becky Walters said.

The farm is Carroll Walters’ family farm. They started growing pumpkins in 1988, opened it to the public in 1997, and made it a formal business in 2004.

They also grow vegetables and sell them at the Old Town Farmers Market in Wichita on Saturdays in the summer.

Although they’ve both retired from their off-the-farm jobs, they keep building the business because they really enjoy it.

“It’s what we like doing, so it’s not work,” Becky Walters said.

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